Muslim scholars and leaders are set to present a sweeping call to action on climate change, claiming that protecting the environment is a religious duty for followers of Islam. The “Islamic Declaration on Climate Change” will be presented next week at an international Islamic symposium on climate change in Istanbul, Turkey.
The document will call on Muslim leaders at madrasas and mosques to emphasize the role that Muslims can play in combating the devastating effects of climate change. It also enjoins oil-wealthy nations to “refocus their concerns from profit to the environment and to the poor of the world.” “Their reluctance to share in the burden they have imposed on the rest of the human community by their own profligacy is noted with great concern.”
Sheikh Shaban Ramadhan Mubaje, Uganda’s grand mufti, explains the Islamic duty to protect the environment in an email about the conference from the Climate Action Network (CAN):
“Islam teaches us: ‘Man is simply a steward holding whatever is on Earth in trust.’ Therefore man should ensure that we do everything possible to protect for this and future generations in order to leave this world a better place than we found it.”
This declaration will add to the growing consensus of religious leaders that climate change is a moral issue that must be addressed by today’s society. Muslim leaders in Senegal have called for a “green jihad” to fight the destruction of the environment. Imam Youssoupha Sarr states: “Islam is clear. Any form of pollution or aggression towards the environment is a sin and clearly forbidden. People need to be reminded of this.”
In June, Pope Francis issued an encyclical on climate change, urging governments to take responsibility for protecting the environment. It also highlighted the impact of climate change on some of the world’s poorest communities: “The warming caused by huge consumption on the part of the rich countries has repercussions on the poorest areas of the world.”
In addition to these powerful statements, many churches have begun divesting from fossil fuels and other harmful practices. In April, the Church of England announced that it would divest 12 million pounds ($19 million) from thermal coal and tar sands.
Climate scientists have emphasized the drastic urgency of taking immediate action against climate change, and some fear that we have underestimated the rate at which climate change is occurring. NASA scientist James Hansen recently claimed that sea levels could potentially rise 10 times faster than expected. As Hansen and his co-authors state: “The message that the climate science delivers to policymakers, instead of defining a safe ‘guardrail’, is that fossil fuel CO2 emissions must be reduced as rapidly as practical.”
Given the threat that climate change poses not just to the environment but to global security and wellbeing, it is laudable that religious leaders from various faiths are taking a stand on this increasingly urgent issue.
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Opinion columnist and former editor-in-chief of Occupy Democrats. He graduated from Bennington College with a Bachelor's degree in history and political science. He now focuses on advancing the cause of social justice and equality in America.